How to Choose a Leadership Pattern

How to Choose a
Leadership Pattern
by Robert Tannenbaum and Warren H. Schmidt
No. 73311
How to Choose a Leadership Pattern
Robert Tannenbaum and Warren H. Schmidt
Since its publication in HBR’s March–April 1958 issue, this article has had such impact and popularity as to warrant its choice as
an “HBR Classic.” Mr. Tannenbaum and Mr. Schmidt succeeded
in capturing in a few succinct pages the main ideas involved in the
question of how managers should lead their organizations. For this
publication, the authors have written a commentary, in which
they look at their article from a 15-year perspective (see page 10.)
“I’m being paid to lead. If I let a lot of other people make the decisions I should be making, then I’m
not worth my salt.”
M “I believe in getting things done. I can’t waste
time calling meetings. Someone has to call the shots
around here, and I think it should be me.”
M “I put most problems into my group’s hands and
leave it to them to carry the ball from there. I serve
merely as a catalyst, mirroring back the people’s
thoughts and feelings so that they can better understand them.”
M “It’s foolish to make decisions oneself on matters
that affect people. I always talk things over with my
subordinates, but I make it clear to them that I’m
the one who has to have the final say.”
M “Once I have decided on a course of action, I do
my best to sell my ideas to my employees.”
Each of these statements represents a point of
view about “good leadership.” Considerable experience, factual data, and theoretical principles could
be cited to support each statement, even though
they seem to be inconsistent when placed together.
Such contradictions point up the dilemma in which
modern managers frequently find themselves.
Mr. Tannenbaum is Professor of the Development of Human
Systems at the Graduate School of Management, University of
California, Los Angeles. He is also a Consulting Editor of the
Journal of Applied Behavioral Science and coauthor (with Irving
Weschler and Fred Massarik) of Leadership and Organization: A
Behavioral Science Approach (New York, McGraw-Hill, 1961).
Mr. Schmidt is also affiliated with the UCLA Graduate School of
Management, where he is Senior Lecturer in Behavioral Science.
Besides writing extensively in the fields of human relations and
leadership and conference planning, Mr. Schmidt wrote the
screenplay for a film, “Is It Always Right to be Right?” which
won an Academy Award in 1970.
New Problem
The problem of how modern managers can be
“democratic” in their relations with subordinates and
at the same time maintain the necessary authority and
control in the organizations for which they are responsible has come into focus increasingly in recent years.
Earlier in the century this problem was not so
acutely felt. The successful executive was generally
pictured as possessing intelligence, imagination, initiative, the capacity to make rapid (and generally
wise) decisions, and the ability to inspire subordinates. People tended to think of the world as being
divided into “leaders” and “followers.”
New focus: Gradually, however, from the social
sciences emerged the concept of “group dynamics”
Copyright © 1973 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.
with its focus on members of the group rather than
solely on the leader. Research efforts of social scientists underscored the importance of employee
involvement and participation in decision making.
Evidence began to challenge the efficiency of highly
directive leadership, and increasing attention was
paid to problems of motivation and human relations.
Through training laboratories in group development that sprang up across the country, many of the
newer notions of leadership began to exert an
impact. These training laboratories were carefully
designed to give people a firsthand experience in full
participation and decision making. The designated
“leaders” deliberately attempted to reduce their
own power and to make group members as responsible as possible for setting their own goals and methods within the laboratory experience.
It was perhaps inevitable that some of the people
who attended the training laboratories regarded this
kind of leadership as being truly “democratic” and
went home with the determination to build fully participative decison making into their own organizations. Whenever their bosses made a decision without
convening a staff meeting, they tended to perceive this
as authoritarian behavior. The true symbol of democratic leadership to some was the meeting—and the
less directed from the top, the more democratic it was.
Some of the more enthusiastic alumni of these
training laboratories began to get the habit of categorizing leader behavior as “democratic” or “authoritarian.” Bosses who made too many decisions
themselves were thought of as authoritarian, and
their directive behavior was often attributed solely
to their personalities.
New need: The net result of the research findings
and of the human relations training based upon them
has been to call into question the stereotype of an effective leader. Consequently, modern managers often find
themselves in an uncomfortable state of mind.
Often they are not quite sure how to behave; there
are times when they are torn between exerting
“strong” leadership and “permissive” leadership.
Sometimes new knowledge pushes them in one direction (“I should really get the group to help make this
decision”), but at the same time their experience
pushes them in another direction (“I really understand the problem better than the group and therefore
I should make the decision”). They are not sure when
a group decision is really appropriate or when holding
a staff meeting serves merely as a device for avoiding
their own decision-making responsibility.
The purpose of our article is to suggest a framework
which managers may find useful in grappling with
this dilemma. First, we shall look at the different patterns of leadership behavior that managers can choose
from in relating to their subordinates. Then, we shall
turn to some of the questions suggested by this range
of patterns. For instance, how important is it for managers’ subordinates to know what type of leadership
they are using in a situation? What factors should
they consider in deciding on a leadership pattern?
What difference do their long-run objectives make as
compared to their immediate objectives?
Range of Behavior
Exhibit I presents the continuum or range of possible leadership behavior available to managers.
Continuum of Leadership Behavior
May–June 1973
Each type of action is related to the degree of authority used by the boss and to the amount of freedom
available to subordinates in reaching decisions. The
actions seen on the extreme left characterize managers who maintain a high degree of control while
those seen on the extreme right characterize managers who release a high degree of control. Neither
extreme is absolute; authority and freedom are never
without their limitations.
Now let us look more closely at each of the behavior points occurring along this continuum.
The manager makes the decision and announces
it. In this case the boss identifies a problem, considers alternative solutions, chooses one of them, and
then reports this decision to the subordinates for
implementation. The boss may or may not give consideration to what he or she believes the subordinates will think or feel about the decision; in any
case, no opportunity is provided for them to participate directly in the decision-making process.
Coercion may or may not be used or implied.
The manager “sells” the decision. Here the manager, as before, takes responsibility for identifying
the problem and arriving at a decision. However,
rather than simply announcing it, he or she takes
the additional step of persuading the subordinates to
accept it. In doing so, the boss recognizes the possibility of some resistance among those who will be
faced with the decision, and seeks to reduce this
resistance by indicating, for example, what the
employees have to gain from the decision.
The manager presents ideas, invites questions. Here
the boss who has arrived at a decision and who
seeks acceptance of his or her ideas provides an
opportunity for subordinates to get a fuller explanation of his or her thinking and intentions. After presenting the ideas, the manager invites questions so
that the associates can better understand what he or
she is trying to accomplish. This “give and take”
also enables the manager and the subordinates to
explore more fully the implications of the decision.
The manager presents a tentative decision subject to change. This kind of behavior permits the
subordinates to exert some influence on the decision. The initiative for identifying and diagnosing
the problem remains with the boss. Before meeting
with the staff, the manager has thought the problem
through and arrived at a decision—but only a tentative one. Before finalizing it, he or she presents the
proposed solution for the reaction of those who will
be affected by it. He or she says in effect, “I’d like to
hear what you have to say about this plan that I have
developed. I’ll appreciate your frank reactions but
will reserve for myself the final decision.”
The manager presents the problem, gets suggestions, and then makes the decision. Up to this
May–June 1973
point the boss has come before the group with a
solution of his or her own. Not so in this case. The
subordinates now get the first chance to suggest
solutions. The manager’s initial role involves identifying the problem. He or she might, for example,
say something of this sort: “We are faced with a
number of complaints from newspapers and the
general public on our service policy. What is wrong
here? What ideas do you have for coming to grips
with this problem?”
The function of the group becomes one of increasing the manager’s repertory of possible solutions to
the problem. The purpose is to capitalize on the
knowledge and experience of those who are on the
“firing line.” From the expanded list of alternatives
developed by the manager and the subordinates, the
manager then selects the solution that he or she
regards as most promising.1
The manager defines the limits and requests the
group to make a decision. At this point the manager passes to the group (possibly taking part as a
member) the right to make decisions. Before doing
so, however, he or she defines the problem to be
solved and the boundaries within which the decision must be made.
An example might be the handling of a parking
problem at a plant. The boss decides that this is
something that should be worked on by the people
involved, so they are called together. Pointing up the
existence of the problem, the boss tells them:
“There is the open field just north of the main
plant which has been designated for additional
employee parking. We can build underground or surface multilevel facilities as long as the cost does not
exceed $100,000. Within these limits we are free to
work out whatever solution makes sense to us. After
we decide on a specific plan, the company will spend
the available money in whatever way we indicate.”
The manager permits the group to make decisions
within prescribed limits. This represents an extreme
degree of group freedom only occasionally encountered in formal organizations, as, for instance, in many
research groups. Here the team of managers or engineers undertakes the identification and diagnosis of
the problem, develops alternative procedures for solving it, and decides on one or more of these alternative
solutions. The only limits directly imposed on the
group by the organization are those specified by the
superior of the team’s boss. If the boss participates in
the decision-making process, deciding in advance to
assist in implementing whatever decision the group
makes, he or she attempts to do so with no more
authority than any other member of the group.
1. For a fuller explanation of this approach, see Leo Moore, “Too Much
Management, Too Little Change,” HBR January–February 1956, p. 41.
Key Questions
As the continuum in Exhibit I demonstrates, there
are a number of alternative ways in which managers
can relate themselves to the group or individuals
they are supervising. At the extreme left of the
range, the emphasis is on the manager—on what he
or she is interested in, how he or she sees things,
how he or she feels about them. As we move toward
the subordinate-centered end of the continuum,
however, the focus is increasingly on the subordinates—on what they are interested in, how they
look at things, how they feel about them.
When business leadership is regarded in this way,
a number of questions arise. Let us take four of especial importance:
Can bosses ever relinquish their responsibility by
delegating it to others? Our view is that managers
must expect to be held responsible by their superiors
for the quality of the decisions made, even though
operationally these decisions may have been made
on a group basis. They should, therefore, be ready to
accept whatever risk is involved whenever they delegate decision-making power to subordinates.
Delegation is not a way of “passing the buck.” Also,
it should be emphasized that the amount of freedom
bosses give to subordinates cannot be greater than
the freedom which they themselves have been given
by their own superiors.
Should the manager participate with subordinates once he or she has delegated responsibility to
them? Managers should carefully think over this
question and decide on their role prior to involving
the subordinate group. They should ask if their presence will inhibit or facilitate the problem-solving
process. There may be some instances when they
should leave the group to let it solve the problem for
itself. Typically, however, the boss has useful ideas
to contribute and should function as an additional
member of the group. In the latter instance, it is
important that he or she indicate clearly to the
group that he or she is in a member role rather than
an authority role.
How important is it for the group to recognize
what kind of leadership behavior the boss is
using? It makes a great deal of difference. Many
relationship problems between bosses and subordinates occur because the bosses fail to make clear
how they plan to use their authority. If, for example,
the boss actually intends to make a certain decision,
but the subordinate group gets the impression that
he or she has delegated this authority, considerable
confusion and resentment are likely to follow.
Problems may also occur when the boss uses a
“democratic” facade to conceal the fact that he or
she has already made a decision which he or she
hopes the group will accept as its own. The attempt
to “make them think it was their idea in the first
place” is a risky one. We believe that it is highly
important for managers to be honest and clear in
describing what authority they are keeping and what
role they are asking their subordinates to assume in
solving a particular problem.
Can you tell how “democratic” a manager is by the
number of decisions the subordinates make? The
sheer number of decisions is not an accurate index
of the amount of freedom that a subordinate group
enjoys. More important is the significance of the decisions which the boss entrusts to subordinates.
Obviously a decision on how to arrange desks is of an
entirely different order from a decision involving the
introduction of new electronic data-processing equipment. Even though the widest possible limits are
given in dealing with the first issue, the group will
sense no particular degree of responsibility. For a boss
to permit the group to decide equipment policy, even
within rather narrow limits, would reflect a greater
degree of confidence in them on his or her part.
Deciding How to Lead
Now let us turn from the types of leadership which
are possible in a company situation to the question of
what types are practical and desirable. What factors
or forces should a manager consider in deciding how
to manage? Three are of particular importance:
Forces in the manager.
Forces in the subordinates.
Forces in the situation.
We should like briefly to describe these elements
and indicate how they might influence a manager’s
action in a decision-making situation.2 The strength
of each of them will, of course, vary from instance to
instance, but managers who are sensitive to them
can better assess the problems which face them and
determine which mode of leadership behavior is
most appropriate for them.
Forces in the manager: The manager’s behavior
in any given instance will be influenced greatly by
the many forces operating within his or her own personality. Managers will, of course, perceive their
leadership problems in a unique way on the basis of
their background, knowledge, and experience.
Among the important internal forces affecting them
will be the following:
1. Their value system. How strongly do they feel
that individuals should have a share in making the
2. See also Robert Tannenbaum and Fred Massarik, “Participation by
Subordinates in the Managerial Decision-Making Process,” Canadian
Journal of Economics and Political Science, August 1950, p. 413.
May–June 1973
decisions which affect them? Or, how convinced are
they that the official who is paid to assume responsibility should personally carry the burden of decision making? The strength of their convictions on
questions like these will tend to move managers to
one end or the other of the continuum shown in
Exhibit I. Their behavior will also be influenced by
the relative importance that they attach to organizational efficiency, personal growth of subordinates,
and company profits.3
2. Their confidence in subordinates. Managers
differ greatly in the amount of trust they have in other
people generally, and this carries over to the particular employees they supervise at a given time. In viewing his or her particular group of subordinates, the
manager is likely to consider their knowledge and
competence with respect to the problem. A central
question managers might ask themselves is: “Who is
best qualified to deal with this problem?” Often they
may, justifiably or not, have more confidence in their
own capabilities than in those of subordinates.
3. Their own leadership inclinations. There are
some managers who seem to function more comfortably and naturally as highly directive leaders.
Resolving problems and issuing orders come easily to
them. Other managers seem to operate more comfortably in a team role, where they are continually sharing
many of their functions with their subordinates.
4. Their feelings of security in an uncertain situation. Managers who release control over the decisionmaking process thereby reduce the predictability of the outcome. Some managers have a greater
need than others for predictability and stability in their
environment. This “tolerance for ambiguity” is being
viewed increasingly by psychologists as a key variable
in a person’s manner of dealing with problems.
Managers bring these and other highly personal
variables to each situation they face. If they can see
them as forces which, consciously or unconsciously,
influence their behavior, they can better understand
what makes them prefer to act in a given way. And
understanding this, they can often make themselves
more effective.
Forces in the subordinate: Before deciding how to
lead a certain group, managers will also want to consider a number of forces affecting their subordinates’
behavior. They will want to remember that each
employee, like themselves, is influenced by many personality variables. In addition, each subordinate has a
set of expectations about how the boss should act in
relation to him or her (the phrase “expected behavior”
is one we hear more and more often these days at discussions of leadership and teaching). The better man3. See Chris Argyris, “Top Management Dilemma: Company Needs vs.
Individual Development,” Personnel, September 1955, pp. 123–134.
May–June 1973
agers understand these factors, the more accurately
they can determine what kind of behavior on their
part will enable subordinates to act most effectively.
Generally speaking, managers can permit subordinates greater freedom if the following essential conditions exist:
If the subordinates have relatively high needs for
independence. (As we all know, people differ greatly
in the amount of direction that they desire.)
□ If the subordinates have a readiness to assume
responsibility for decision making. (Some see additional responsibility as a tribute to their ability; others see it as “passing the buck.”)
□ If they have a relatively high tolerance for ambiguity. (Some employees prefer to have clear-cut
directives given to them; others prefer a wider area
of freedom.)
□ If they are interested in the problem and feel that
it is important.
□ If they understand and identify with the goals of
the organization.
□ If they have the necessary knowledge and experience to deal with the problem.
□ If they have learned to expect to share in decision
making. (Persons who have come to expect strong
leadership and are then suddenly confronted with
the request to share more fully in decision making
are often upset by this new experience. On the other
hand, persons who have enjoyed a considerable
amount of freedom resent bosses who begin to make
all the decisions themselves.)
Managers will probably tend to make fuller use of
their own authority if the above conditions do not
exist; at times there may be no realistic alternative
to running a “one-man show.”
The restrictive effect of many of the forces will, of
course, be greatly modified by the general feeling of
confidence which subordinates have in the boss.
Where they have learned to respect and trust the
boss, he or she is free to vary his or her own behavior. The boss will feel certain that he or she will not
be perceived as an authoritarian boss on those occasions when he or she makes decisions alone.
Similarly, the boss will not be seen as using staff
meetings to avoid decision-making responsibility. In
a climate of mutual confidence and respect, people
tend to feel less threatened by deviations from normal practice, which in turn makes possible a higher
degree of flexibility in the whole relationship.
Forces in the situation: In addition to the forces
which exist in managers themselves and in the subordinates, certain characteristics of the general situation will also affect managers’ behavior. Among the
more critical environmental pressures that surround
them are those which stem from the organization,
the work group, the nature of the problem, and the
pressures of time. Let us look briefly at each of these:
Type of organization—Like individuals, organizations have values and traditions which inevitably
influence the behavior of the people who work in
them. Managers who are newcomers to a company
quickly discover that certain kinds of behavior are
approved while others are not. They also discover
that to deviate radically from what is generally
accepted is likely to create problems for them.
These values and traditions are communicated in
numerous ways—through job descriptions, policy pronouncements, and public statements by top executives. Some organizations, for example, hold to the
notion that the desirable executive is one who is
dynamic, imaginative, decisive, and persuasive. Other
organizations put more emphasis upon the importance
of the executive’s ability to work effectively with people—human relations skills. The fact that the person’s
superiors have a defined concept of what the good executive should be will very likely push the manager
toward one end or the other of the behavioral range.
In addition to the above, the amount of employee
participation is influenced by such variables as the
size of the working units, their geographical distribution, and the degree of inter- and intra-organizational security required to attain company goals.
For example, the wide geographical dispersion of an
organization may preclude a practical system of participative decision making, even though this would
otherwise be desirable. Similarly, the size of the
working units or the need for keeping plans confidential may make it necessary for the boss to exercise more control than would otherwise be the case.
Factors like these may limit considerably the manager’s ability to function flexibly on the continuum.
Group effectiveness—Before turning decisionmaking responsibility over to a subordinate group,
the boss should consider how effectively its members work together as a unit.
One of the relevant factors here is the experience
the group has had in working together. It can generally be expected that a group which has functioned
for some time will have developed habits of cooperation and thus be able to tackle a problem more effectively than a new group. It can also be expected that
a group of people with similar backgrounds and
interests will work more quickly and easily than people with dissimilar backgrounds, because the communication problems are likely to be less complex.
The degree of confidence that the members have
in their ability to solve problems as a group is also a
key consideration. Finally, such group variables as
cohesiveness, permissiveness, mutual acceptance,
and commonality of purpose will exert subtle but
powerful influence on the group’s functioning.
The problem itself—The nature of the problem
may determine what degree of authority should be
delegated by managers to their subordinates.
Obviously, managers will ask themselves whether
subordinates have the kind of knowledge which is
needed. It is possible to do them a real disservice by
assigning a problem that their experience does not
equip them to handle.
Since the problems faced in large or growing
industries increasingly require knowledge of specialists from many different fields, it might be inferred
that the more complex a problem, the more anxious
a manager will be to get some assistance in solving
it. However, this is not always the case. There will
be times when the very complexity of the problem
calls for one person to work it out. For example, if
the manager has most of the background and factual
data relevant to a given issue, it may be easier for
him or her to think it through than to take the time
to fill in the staff on all the pertinent background
The key question to ask, of course, is: “Have I
heard the ideas of everyone who has the necessary
knowledge to make a significant contribution to the
solution of this problem?”
The pressure of time—This is perhaps the most
clearly felt pressure on managers (in spite of the fact
that it may sometimes be imagined). The more that
they feel the need for an immediate decision, the
more difficult it is to involve other people. In organizations which are in a constant state of “crisis”
and “crash programming” one is likely to find managers personally using a high degree of authority
with relatively little delegation to subordinates.
When the time pressure is less intense, however, it
becomes much more possible to bring subordinates
in on the decision-making process.
These, then, are the principal forces that impinge
on managers in any given instance and that tend to
determine their tactical behavior in relation to subordinates. In each case their behavior ideally will be
that which makes possible the most effective
attainment of their immediate goals within the limits facing them.
Long-Run Strategy
As managers work with their organizations on the
problems that come up day to day, their choice of a
leadership pattern is usually limited. They must
take account of the forces just described and, within
the restrictions those factors impose on them, do the
best that they can. But as they look ahead months or
even years, they can shift their thinking from tactics
to large-scale strategy. No longer need they be fetHARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW
May–June 1973
tered by all of the forces mentioned, for they can
view many of them as variables over which they
have some control. They can, for example, gain new
insights or skills for themselves, supply training for
individual subordinates, and provide participative
experiences for their employee group.
In trying to bring about a change in these variables, however, they are faced with a challenging
question: At which point along the continuum
should they act?
Attaining objectives: The answer depends largely on
what they want to accomplish. Let us suppose that they
are interested in the same objectives that most modern
managers seek to attain when they can shift their attention from the pressure of immediate assignments:
1. To raise the level of employee motivation.
2. To increase the readiness of subordinates to
accept change.
3. To improve the quality of all managerial decisions.
4. To develop teamwork and morale.
5. To further the individual development of
In recent years managers have been deluged with a
flow of advice on how best to achieve these longerrun objectives. It is little wonder that they are often
both bewildered and annoyed. However, there are
some guidelines which they can usefully follow in
making a decision.
Most research and much of the experience of
recent years give a strong factual basis to the theory
that a fairly high degree of subordinate-center behavior is associated with the accomplishment of the five
purposes mentioned.4 This does not mean that managers should always leave all decisions to their assis-
May–June 1973
tants. To provide the individual or the group with
greater freedom than they are ready for at any given
time may very well tend to generate anxieties and
therefore inhibit rather than facilitate the attainment of desired objectives. But this should not keep
managers from making a continuing effort to confront subordinates with the challenge of freedom.
In summary, there are two implications in the
basic thesis that we have been developing. The first
is that successful leaders are those who are keenly
aware of the forces which are most relevant to their
behavior at any given time. They accurately understand themselves, the individuals and groups they
are dealing with, and the company and broader
social environment in which they operate. And certainly they are able to assess the present readiness
for growth of their subordinates.
But this sensitivity or understanding is not
enough, which brings us to the second implication.
Successful leaders are those who are able to behave
appropriately in the light of these perceptions. If
direction is in order, they are able to direct; if considerable participative freedom is called for, they are
able to provide such freedom.
Thus, successful managers of people can be primarily characterized neither as strong leaders nor as
permissive ones. Rather, they are people who maintain a high batting average in accurately assessing
the forces that determine what their most appropriate behavior at any given time should be and in actually being able to behave accordingly. Being both
insightful and flexible, they are less likely to see the
problems of leadership as a dilemma.
4. For example, see Warren H. Schmidt and Paul C. Buchanan,
Techniques that Produce Teamwork (New London, Arthur C. Croft
Publications, 1954); and Morris S. Viteles, Motivation and Morale in
Industry (New York, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1953).
Retrospective Commentary
Since this HBR Classic was first published in 1958,
there have been many changes in organizations and in
the world that have affected leadership patterns. While
the article’s continued popularity attests to its essential validity, we believe it can be reconsidered and
updated to reflect subsequent societal changes and new
management concepts.
The reasons for the article’s continued relevance can
be summarized briefly:
M The article contains insights and perspectives which
mesh well with, and help clarify, the experiences of
managers, other leaders, and students of leadership.
Thus it is useful to individuals in a wide variety of organizations—industrial, governmental, educational, religious, and community.
M The concept of leadership the article defines is
reflected in a continuum of leadership behavior (see
Exhibit I in original article). Rather than offering a
choice between two styles of leadership, democratic or
authoritarian, it sanctions a range of behavior.
M The concept does not dictate to managers but helps
them to analyze their own behavior. The continuum
permits them to review their behavior within a context
of other alternatives, without any style being labeled
right or wrong.
(We have sometimes wondered if we have, perhaps,
made it too easy for anyone to justify his or her style of
leadership. It may be a small step between being nonjudgmental and giving the impression that all behavior
is equally valid and useful. The latter was not our
intention. Indeed, the thrust of our endorsement was
for managers who are insightful in assessing relevant
forces within themselves, others, and situations, and
who can be flexible in responding to these forces.)
In recognizing that our article can be updated, we are
acknowledging that organizations do not exist in a vacuum but are affected by changes that occur in society.
Consider, for example, the implications for organizations of these recent social developments:
The youth revolution that expresses distrust and even
contempt for organizations identified with the establishment.
> The civil rights movement that demands all minority groups be given a greater opportunity for participation and influence in the organizational processes.
> The ecology and consumer movements that challenge
the right of managers to make decisions without considering the interest of people outside the organization.
> The increasing national concern with the quality of
working life and its relationship to worker productivity, participation, and satisfaction.
These and other societal changes make effective leadership in this decade a more challenging task, requiring
even greater sensitivity and flexibility than was needed
in the 1950’s. Today’s manager is more likely to deal
with employees who resent being treated as subordinates, who may be highly critical of any organizational
system, who expect to be consulted and to exert influence, and who often stand on the edge of alienation from
the institution that needs their loyalty and commitment. In addition, the manager is frequently confronted
by a highly turbulent, unpredictable environment.
In response to these social pressures, new concepts of
management have emerged in organizations. Open-system theory, with its emphasis on subsystems’ interdependency and on the interaction of an organization
with its environment, has made a powerful impact on
managers’ approach to problems. Organization development has emerged as a new behavioral science
approach to the improvement of individual, group,
organizational, and interorganizational performance. New
research has added to our understanding of motivation in
the work situation. More and more executives have become
concerned with social responsibility and have explored the
feasibility of social audits. And a growing number of organizations, in Europe and in the United States, have conducted
experiments in industrial democracy.
In light of these developments, we submit the following thoughts on how we would rewrite certain
points in our original article.
The article described forces in the manager, subordinates, and the situation as givens, with the leadership
pattern a result of these forces. We would now give more
attention to the interdependency of these forces. For
example, such interdependency occurs in: (a) the interplay between the manager’s confidence in subordinates,
their readiness to assume responsibility, and the level of
group effectiveness; and (b) the impact of the behavior of
the manager on that of subordinates, and vice versa.
In discussing the forces in the situation, we primarily identified organizational phenomena. We would
now include forces lying outside the organization and
would explore the relevant interdependencies between
the organization and its environment.
In the original article, we presented the size of the
rectangle in Exhibit I as a given, with its boundaries
already determined by external forces—in effect, a
closed system. We would now recognize the possibility
of the manager and/or the subordinates taking the initiative to change those boundaries through interaction
with relevant external forces—both within their own
organization and in the larger society.
The article portrayed the manager as the principal
and almost unilateral actor. He or she initiated and
May–June 1973
Continuum of Manager-Nonmanager Behavior
Nonmanager power
and influence
Manager power
and influence
Area of freedom
for manager
Area of freedom
for nonmanagers
able to
must "sell"
his or her
but must
respond to
from nonmanagers.
R e s u lt
ant ma
subject to
after nonmanager
gets inputs
from nonmanagers,
er and
b e h av io
limits within
Manager and
jointly make
within limits
defined by
determined group functions, assumed responsibility,
and exercised control. Subordinates made inputs and
assumed power only at the will of the manager.
Although the manager might have taken outside forces
into account, it was he or she who decided where to
operate on the continuum—that is, whether to
announce a decision instead of trying to sell the idea to
subordinates, whether to invite questions, to let subordinates decide an issue, and so on. While the manager
has retained this clear prerogative in many organizations, it has been challenged in others. Even in situations where managers have retained it, however, the
balance in the relationship between managers and subordinates at any given time is arrived at by interaction—direct or indirect—between the two parties.
Although power and its use by managers played a
role in our article, we now realize that our concern
with cooperation and collaboration, common goals,
commitment, trust, and mutual caring limited our
vision with respect to the realities of power. We did not
attempt to deal with unions, other forms of joint worker
action, or with individual workers’ expressions of resistance. Today, we would recognize much more clearly
the power available to all parties and the factors that
underlie the interrelated decisions on whether to use it.
In the original article, we used the terms “manager”
and “subordinate.” We are now uncomfortable with
“subordinate” because of its demeaning, dependencyladen connotations and prefer “nonmanager.” The
titles “manager” and “nonmanager” make the terminological difference functional rather than hierarchical.
We assumed fairly traditional organizational structures in our original article. Now we would alter our
formulation to reflect newer organizational modes
which are slowly emerging, such as industrial democracy, intentional communities, and “phenomenarchy.”* These new modes are based on observations
such as the following:
May–June 1973
> Both manager and nonmanagers may be governing
forces in their group’s environment, contributing to the
definition of the total area of freedom.
> A group can function without a manager, with managerial functions being shared by group members.
> A group, as a unit, can be delegated authority and
can assume responsibility within a larger organizational context.
The arrows in the exhibit indicate the continual flow
of interdependent influence among systems and people.
The points on the continuum designate the types of
manager and nonmanager behavior that become possible with any given amount of freedom available to
each. The new continuum is both more complex and
more dynamic than the 1958 version, reflecting the
organizational and societal realities of 1973.
Our thoughts on the question of leadership have
prompted us to design a new behavior continuum (see
Exhibit II) in which the total area of freedom shared by
manager and nonmanagers is constantly redefined by interactions between them and the forces in the environment.
*For a description of phenomenarchy, see Will McWhinney,
“Phenomenarchy: A Suggestion for Social Redesign,” Journal of
Applied Behavioral Science, May 1973.
May–June 1973